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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Daily Strategist

July 17, 2018

Howlers on List of ‘100 Most Influential’ Cons & Libs

The U.K.’s Daily Telegraph has been running a sort of political strip-tease during the last week, each day unveiling 20 names on two 100-name lists: “The Most Influential U.S. Conservatives” and “The Most Influential U.S. Liberals.” The names are all ranked with a couple of paragraphs, written (and ranked) by Tony Harnden, explaining why each individual is so influential, and the two lists are completed with today’s release of the top 20 of each set of rankings.
Readers may be interested in some of the choices and descriptions of their influence, but there is a lot to argue with, as well. For example, the top five conservatives in order are Rudy Giuliani; General David Petraeus; Matt Drudge; Newt Gingrich; and Rush Limbaugh. For the liberals, the top five are, in order: Bill Clinton; Al Gore; Mark Penn; Hillary Clinton; and Nancy Pelosi.
There are quite a few howlers on both lists. The best howler on the top 100 conservatives has to be Chuck Norris, ranking 71st, ahead of Charles Krauthammer (77th); Pat Buchanan (80th); Bill O’Reilly (82nd); Peggy Noonan (83rd); Ann Coulter (84th); Clarence Thomas(85th); Michelle Malkin (93rd); and Henry Kissinger (95th). Of the top 100 liberals, a good howler is ranking Barbara Streisand 77th, ahead of Robert Borosage (78th); Howard Dean (84th); Ted Kennedy (85th); and Bob Shrum (93rd). Joe Lieberman makes both lists.
The value in both lists for political strategy is the identifying of influential behind-the-scenes-types and the descriptions of their influence. The rankings, however, are highly subjective, impressionistic and generally useless for anything besides water-cooler chat.

Edwards Goes Airborne in Iowa

Long after his leading rivals “went up,” and well after his early lead in Iowa began to dissipate, John Edwards is now running his first television ad in that state. Given his emphasis on national security issues in his efforts to distinguish himself from Hillary Clinton in other venues, it’s interesting that this ad totally dwells on Edwards’ (and his wife’s) commitment to “stand up for working people,” and promises to show “spine” without any reference to Iraq, or for that matter, to George W. Bush.
You’d have to guess the ad is aimed at expanding Edwards’ base of labor support in Iowa, and it’s well-timed to take advantage of national pundit sentiment that he’s beginning to win Democratic candidate debates. But it’s still a pretty soft appeal for a guy whose campaign is increasingly focused on the idea that Hillary Clinton represents the corrupt status quo.

Prophets Vs. Neocons

The tension on the Right between conservative evangelical Christians and conservative Jews–particularly those of the Neoconservative variety–is an old phenomenon, most famously exposed by the so-called Neocon-Theocon dispute of 1996, in which a variety of prominent Neocons took sharp exception to Christian Right suggestions that judicial approval of abortion and gay rights might justify a revolutionary stance.
This tension didn’t, of course, prevent Neocons and Theocons from cheerfully cooperating to develop some of George W. Bush’s most disastrous international and domestic policies. But the bad feelings are re-emerging in the context of Rudy Giulani’s presidential campaign, which has drawn conspicuous Neoconservative support while tempting Christian Right leaders to threaten a third-party run if Rudy is the GOP nominee.
Interestingly enough, the most direct expression of the Neocon-Theocon dispute over Giuliani comes from a Jewish writer, David Klinghoffer, who has penned a National Review article accusing Rudy’s conservative Jewish supporters of elevating the Islamic terrorist over domestic moral-issues considerations in a way that is unfaithful to the Jewish tradition.
Klinghoffer performs this provocative bit of Neocon-baiting by appealing to the example of the Jewish prophets revered by both Christian and Jewish conservatives. As he notes quite cogently, the Prophets typically warned Jews that faithfulness to divine commandments was the best, and indeed the only, defense against foreign threats to Israel, and often treated such threats as God’s punishment for wickedness (though Klinghoffer naturally doesn’t mention it, this was the biblical basis for the infamous reaction of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to 9/11 as retribution for America’s tolerance of abortion and homosexuality).
You certainly don’t have to agree with Klinghoffer to admire his savage use of the prophetic example to skewer the Neocon obsession with the Clash of Civilizations:

Consider Jeremiah, about whose life we know more (from his own writing), than any of his prophetic colleagues. He lived through the sacking of Jerusalem and the leading away to captivity of her people by the empire of Babylon.
In the run-up to this tragedy, was he out banging the drum for a tough anti-Babylonian stance, sponsoring a “Babylo-Fascist Awareness Week” a-la-David Horowitz? No. On the contrary, he was accused of treason by the war party among his fellow Jews. He warned that, in the context of Israel’s corrupt moral culture, it was useless to resist Babylon.
He taught that purifying the culture was the real priority, of which the defense against Babylon was merely a secondary expression.

If and when Rudy Giuliani gets really close to nailing down the Republican presidential nomination, I suspect we will hear echoes of Klinghoffer’s argument from elements of the Christian Right. They may hate and fear Islam, but their deepest hatred is reserved for America’s “holocaust” (to use Mike Huckabee’s recent term) of abortion and its alleged assaults on the family and people of faith.

Clinton’s Surprising Advantages

There’s plenty of interesting stuff in the latest Pew Research Center national political survey, and I’ll probably write about it some more later. But one set of findings that fairly jumped off the page involved the internal dynamics of Hillary Clinton’s 51-43 lead over Rudy Giuliani in a hypothetical general election matchup.
Pew compared the two candidates’ support levels in a variety of demographic categories to those of John Kerry and George W. Bush in 2004. And there were some surprises about where HRC is currently doing better than Kerry.
The categories in which HRC’s advantage over Kerry as measured by total percentage of the two-party vote is highest are these: Southern voters (+13); voters believing the invasion of Iraq was the right decision (+12); and white evangelical Protestant voters (+11). She also bests Kerry by 9% among those reporting weekly church attendance, and by 7% among self-identified Republicans (as opposed to no advantage among independents and a drop of 2% among self-identified Democrats).
These aren’t the only categories where the HRC does much better against Giuliani than Kerry did against Bush. Others include voters with no college education (+10); voters in both the top and bottom income categories (+8 for each); and least surprisingly, women (+8). But they certainly don’t comport with the stereotype that HRC is a candidate whose entire appeal is to rank-and-file Democrats.
There are two ways to look at findings like these. One is to suggest that preconceptions aside, HRC is fully capable of harvesting votes from pro-Republican segments of the electorate who are souring on the GOP, and even its strongest current candidate, Giuliani. The other is to dismiss Clinton’s surprisingly positive showing in such segments as an ephemeral phenomenon that would vanish in the course of a highly polarizing general election campaign.
Standing back from all the numbers for a moment, the most astonishing–perhaps even incredible–finding in the Pew poll is that the South is HRC’s strongest region in a contest with Giuliani. No one really thinks she or any other Democrat would come close to winning the region, or winning more than a handful of states, barring a blowout. But even if the findings are off significantly, they certainly aren’t consistent with the widely held view that HRC would be a down-ballot disaster for Democrats in the South. And they are in fact reinforced by a variety of single-state general election polls (particularly those conducted by SurveyUSA) that show HRC running as well as any other Democrat in most southern states, and running ahead of Republican candidates in several.

Tempering Dem Euphoria

Things are going extremely well for the Democrats. Lest we get too overconfident, however, here’s a pair of articles to temper Democratic euphoria: Don Frederick’s Top of the Ticket article “A daunting reality for House Democrats” at the L.A. Times notes:

60 Democrats are running in House districts carried by President Bush in 2004; only eight Republicans are running in districts carried by his Democratic opponent, John Kerry.

Frederick flags another article in the Politico “The angry voter: Bad news for Dems” by John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei, in which the authors riff on sour attitudes toward congress as a potential problem for Dems:

From the Democratic perspective, there is definitely a case to be made for alarm. It is based on the history of recent decades that shows whenever voters get this unhappy, unpredictable things can happen.

They also quote TDS co-editor Stan Greenberg: “We’ve never seen people as angry and frustrated as they are now, … even more than in ’92.” But Greenberg adds,

It’s certainly true that people are disgruntled with Congress and lukewarm about the Democrats in general…However modest Democrats’ numbers are, Republicans’ numbers are much worse and dropping…The main story is Republicans are seen as backing the Iraq war, backing Bush and blocking change.

The Politico article also cites a Mark Mellman poll showing Congressional Dems have a favorable rating of 48 percent, with 44 percent unfavorable, compared to 32 favorable for congresional Republicans, with 62 percent unfavorable.
Hardly a case for “alarm.” Cautious confidence would be more like it.

HRC’s Consolation Prize

As my last post noted, last night wasn’t exactly a shining moment for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. But today brought news that should cheer her up: an endorsement by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
This is a pretty big deal, given AFSCME’s size and political clout. And it’s a particularly big deal in Iowa, where AFSCME is generally considered the most politically important union. Because it’s a national endorsement, she will also be able to draw on AFSCME heft from other states in the final drive towards the Caucuses.
I’m sure the Edwards campaign was praying for a “no endorsement” vote by AFSCME, but the North Carolinian did get a consolation prize of his own on the labor front: an endorsement from SEIU’s state council in New Hampshire. Since Edwards has already been endorsed by a dozen or so SEIU locals elsewhere (including neighboring Massachusetts), he, too, can draw on out-of-state help from the union in NH, just as he can in IA. But it was apparently a very near thing: according to various stories leaking out today, the executive council of the NH SEIU actually voted last week to endorse Obama, and then reversed the vote on murky procedural grounds, citing a membership straw poll that gave Edwards plurality support. An Obama endorsement would have been a really big deal, giving him a key boost in NH while locking Edwards’ SEIU supporters out of active campaigning in the state.

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Last night’s Democratic presidential candidate debate in Philadelphia was peculiar in that the event’s moderators, Tim Russert and Brian Williams, skewed the first half to meet the expectation that this would be a slug-fest with Obama and Edwards taking on HRC. Chris Dodd’s famous Talk Clock showed a time allocation in which the big three plus the moderators soaked up 75 of the 105 minutes of actual debate. But more obviously, an extraordinary number of the questions were about HRC, whose physical position between Edwards and Obama underlined the sense that she was undergoing an inquisition.
That’s certainly how the event struck TNR’s Noam Scheiber:

The real development was the contrast between Obama and Edwards, both of whom were auditioning for the role of Clinton alternative, and who sounded at times like two homicide detectives working over a murder suspect.

Yep. John Edwards played bad cop and Barack Obama played good cop. As in every detective drama, the bad cop got in the best lines. But substance aside, the real question is how viewers felt about the one woman on the stage getting the third degree.
As is often the case, there was a notable disconnect between MSM and blogospheric reaction to the debate, though not in the direction you might expect. MSMers generally interpreted the event as really bad news for Hillary Clinton, and to the extent that they chose a winner, crowned Edwards. (That ultimate journalistic insider, Mark Halperin of Time, gave Edwards an “A” and HRC a “C-minus”). Immediately after the debate on MSNBC, the buzz was all about HRC’s mishandling of the question about drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants (no one, BTW, seemed interested in the fact that Obama and Edwards actually support the highly unpopular idea).
But in most precincts of the progressive blogosphere, there wasn’t much of a sense that there were clear winners or losers. A DailyKos reader poll pretty much broke along candidate-preference lines. Matt Stoller of OpenLeft found the whole thing boring. Dana Goldstein at TAPPED, who admits she was rooting for Obama, thought Clinton was the ultimate winner.
This reaction must have been puzzling to Edwards’ campaign. After all, their candidate channeled the standard netroots attack lines on HRC quite faithfully: he went after her on Iran, but also made her residual troop plan for Iraq a key differentiator, for the very first time. He all but used “Republican Lite” to describe her policy views, and deployed lots of netroots buzz words and phrases, tying HRC to “neocons” and a “corrupt system,” and talking incessantly about “standing up” to Bush/Cheney and corporations. Yet it was Mark Halperin, not any blogger, who thought Edwards hit a home run while HRC struck out.
I don’t know what, if anything, this differential reaction means, other than perhaps reflecting the belief among many progressive bloggers that Edwards is not viable and that HRC has all but wrapped up the nomination, barring a late charge by Obama, whose “good cop” number in Philadelphia belied all the predictions that he might try to take HRC’s head off.

DCorps: Warning on Immigration

The latest Democracy Corps strategic memo from Stan Greenberg, Al Quinlan and James Carville shows an intensification of “wrong track” sentiment and continued Democratic advantages in generic balloting, approval ratings, and key “swing” congressional contests.
But the memo comes with several blunt warnings about the danger that Democrats could wind up alongside Republicans in the crossfire of public anger over certain issues. While Iraq, health care, corruption and economic worries continue to help Democrats, voters are also persistently angry about taxes. And on one issue, immigration, Democrats and independents as well as Republicans are drifting towards positions more associated with Tom Tancredo than with the mainstream of Democratic elected official opinion.

When we tested a comprehensive proposal in a bi-partisan poll for NPR, we got (44)
percent support for a plan to increase enforcement on the borders and work place and deny most
government benefits but recognizing we cannot expel 12 million, creates a path for citizenship
for the law abiding – a big change in status with opportunities for fuller integration into
America. That is likely a presidential issue that could gain further support with public debate.
When we tested a plan earlier without the reassurance on benefits, the plan got only 39 percent,
suggesting how challenging this issue will be for ordinary candidates without the full platform
available at a presidential level. Even with the reassurance on control and benefits, 40 percent
of Democrats and a majority of African Americans favored the tougher Republican alternative
that provided no path to legalization. This is a real wedge issue that Democrats need to get right.

Indeed, the DCorps analysts suggest that immigration may pose the same chaltlenge to Democrats today that welfare reform posed to their predecessors going into the 1992 presidential election. Immigration is now cited as the single top reason for “wrong-track” sentiment by self-identified independents, more important than Iraq or health care. To show how contemporary opinion doesn’t nicely break down on familiar ideological lines, the second-largest concern in this group was about energy independence and global warming.
But a full reading of the DCorps memo indicates that Republicans are far more in danger of sounding out of touch with current trends than are Democrats. Consider all the you-never-had-it-so-good rhetoric of Republican presidential candidates (other than Huckabee and Paul) about the economy:

In the focus groups [of swing voters], we handed people a page of positive facts about the economy – and we nearly had to rescue the moderator from the disbelieving and angry participants. In fact,
before this exercise, we asked people to write down two important things happening with the
economy and none of the 40 participants said anything positive, with their negative notations
centered on the high “cost of living.” It is hard to underestimate the power of a Democratic
message that simply recognizes the economic realities that are very real for these voters.

And it’s hard to underestimate the poitical blindness of Republicans who keep telling these voters to look on the sunny side and stay optimistic. Optimism is not exactly in high supply among Americans this particular moment in history.

Early Obituary

When I did my post yesterday about the extraordinary blogospheric reaction to Barack Obama’s South Carolina “gospel tour,” I hadn’t yet read Chris Bowers’ take at OpenLeft. But typically, Chris offers the definitive explanation of the widespread unhappiness with Obama on the Left, with a 3824 word obituary of his campaign which also concedes the presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton.
Even if you disagree with Chris, it’s well worth reading as another example of the different optics different people bring to common political topics. From the very beginning, Obama’s candidacy was almost universally hailed as offering the prospect of an unusual electoral force. Some thought that his African-American identity, his early opposition to the Iraq War, and his New Politics rhetoric, tied to a repudiation of Bush-era polarization, could produce a Bobby Kennedy-style mindbending coalition appealing to the Left and Center within the Democratic Party and to independents beyond it. As he explains in the current post, Chris Bowers saw the same phenomena quite differently: Obama’s strongest appeal was to a left-bent “creative class” (represented by, though not co-extensive with, the “netroots”)–antiwar, anti-establishment, and secular–which could be combined with African-Americans to produce a mass progressive movement.
To Obama-as-RFK observers, his paens to bipartisanship and his conspicuous outreach to faith communities have been logical if sometimes poorly executed, and could bear fruit in an expanded Democratic base. To Chris and others, they have been daily irritants to Obama’s strongest supporters, compounded by his disengagement from congressional fights that many netroots folk have considered life-or-death matters. The McClurkin incident, in this view, was the final straw. And according to Chris Bowers, at least, this means the one realistic alternative to HRC has imploded.

Barring a miraculous victory in Iowa, I think that Obama is done and Clinton is the nominee. I don’t see how Edwards comes back with only $1.5M to spend on ads in Iowa. Further, Richardson hasn’t made any gains in the state in four months, and everyone else trails Clinton by about 25% in the state right now. Seriously, I think it would take a miracle for it to change. From the start, Obama was the only one with a real chance, but now has just suffered too severe a blow with the white, progressive creative class that he needed to win the state. After five months of losing ground among this group, the vicious, deserved, and nearly blogosphere-wide criticism of Obama today seems like too much to overcome. It is the nail in the coffin for his campaign. He just can’t win the primary without those voters, and I don’t see how he gets them back now.

Not everyone, of course, thinks the “white, progressive, creative class” is the key to victory in Iowa, and moreover, it’s not immediately clear that mass members of this “class” are as tuned into or agitatated by the McClurkin inicident or Obama’s other alleged sins against progressivism and partisanship. Chris ties his analysis of Obama’s stubborn refusal to stand up for that “class” with his gradual decline in national polls against Clinton, which is a plausible but hardly unassailable interpretation. Given recent polling in Iowa, and Obama’s excellent field operation there, a win would hardly represent a “miracle.” And then, just as many voters are beginning to pay closer attention, an Obama-Clinton one-on-one match-up might be a different proposition than it appears to be today. Chris Bowers’ obituary for Obama’s candidacy is definitely too early.
But I can understand the netroots angst he represents, best expressed in these lines:

It is ironic, really. During 2006 and early 2007, I always thought that the netroots would end up being the downfall of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. However, it turns out that losing the netroots has been the downfall of Barack Obama’s campaign, resulting in the rise of Hillary Clinton.

And for some netroots folk, that’s an irony difficult to bear.

Hawkeye Poll: Hold the High Fives

The Politico is re-running a piece from the Daily Iowan by Kelsey Beltramea noting former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s strong showing in the latest Iowa University “Hawkeye” poll, conducted 10/17-24. The poll also shows Senators Obama and Clinton in a statistical tie. But before supporters of Obama and the Huckster start slapping the high fives, they should give Mark Blumenthal’s Pollster.com post on the poll a sober read. Blumenthal notes that the poll uses different methodology and he crunches current registration numbers, Iowa Caucus turnout figures in ’04 and ’88, and concludes:

…this poll is sampling a considerably broader population of Iowa adults than has turned out to attend past caucuses….So interpret these results in that context and with great caution. The trends observed by comparing the August an October Hawkeye polls are meaningful – because they used the same methodology for both polls – but apply only to the very broad population of Iowa adults sampled. It helps that the trends in this poll bear a resemblance to what we have seen lately on other Iowa polls, but we advise huge grains of salt before comparing the support for any particular candidate on this survey to that measured by any other survey.

Doesn’t mean Huckabee and Obama aren’t getting some new traction; it’s just that this particular poll has limited value for charting a real trend.